Zynga Fights Back, Says EA Copied Games

Zynga Fights Back, Says EA Copied Games

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In early August Electronic Arts filed a lawsuit against social gaming giant Zynga for its new Facebook game The Ville.

“The copying was so comprehensive that the two games are, to an uninitiated observer, largely indistinguishable,” said Lucy Bradshaw, general manager of Maxis (the EA subsidiary that produces all Sims games).

Zynga finally responded to the claim Friday, by accusing EA of copying Activision’s Little Computer People when it created The Sims to begin with. It also accused EA of copying Zynga.

“Zynga’s YoVille, released in 2008, three years before The Sims Social, was the first commercially viable life simulation game on Facebook, “ Zynga says in court papers filed Friday. “YoVille allowed players to: customize a virtual avatar by selecting its skin color, facial features, hair color, hair style, and clothing; decorate and arrange furniture within a virtual home; work a virtual job; and socialize with other players by visiting them and sending them virtual gifts. “

Zynga adds, “In other words, it was Activision — not EA — that first developed the ideas found in The Sims Social, and it was Zynga — not EA — that first brought the concept to Facebook.”

In a CNN interview in 2000, Sim’s creator Will Wright acknowledged playing Little Computer People, and receiving “valuable feedback” on the game from its creator Rich Gold.

Zynga claims that EA actualy copied it when it started making social games for Facebook, noting that EA’s SimCity Social was launched a year and a half after Zynga’s CityVille.

“A side-by-side comparison of Zynga’s CityVille and EA’s SimCity Social shows that EA draws heavily on elements found in Zynga’s CityVille game. In fact, in promoting its game, EA explicitly played on Zynga’s popular CityVille: ‘More City, Less Ville.’”

EA’s lawsuit against Zynga regarding The Ville isn’t the first time the company has been accused of copying games. The company often releases games that are exceptionally similar to other popular games on the market. FarmVille, for instance, was released after a similar game, Farm Town, took Facebook by storm.

The company acknowledged that tradition in Friday’s court filing.

“Zynga did not achieve its success in the social gaming sphere by launching games that users don’t want to play. It achieved its success by innovating in popular genres, a tradition it has continued with The Ville.”

What do you think? Is EA or Zynga in the right? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Xbox 360 Cuts Facebook and Twitter Apps, Adds Internet Explorer

Xbox 360 Cuts Facebook and Twitter Apps, Adds Internet Explorer

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Xbox 360 Facebook TwitterMicrosoft added a new Internet Explorer 9 app to its Xbox 360 interface earlier this week but killed off its Facebook and Twitter apps in the process.

Xbox 360 users who recently updated the system’s software may notice Facebook and Twitter are no longer available in the Xbox Marketplace.

The good news, however, is users who already downloaded the apps can still use them, but those looking to add them to their lineup can no longer do so.

“We are retiring the Facebook and Twitter apps. Xbox LIVE subscribers will have the ability to access these sites through Internet Explorer on Xbox, available through the Web Hub located on the new dashboard,” a Microsoft spokesperson told Neowin.

Although the company didn’t give a reason behind the move, it’s likely Microsoft wants to call attention to Internet Explorer and encourage users to access the social networks directly via the browser.

The Facebook and Twitter apps have been a part of Xbox Marketplace since 2009.

Microsoft also added a new music-streaming service as a part of its software update. First announced in June, Xbox Music — a platform similar to Spotify — allows users stream more than 30 million tracks across its ecosystem of Windows 8 mobile devices, PCs and the Xbox.

What do you think about this, Xbox 360 users? Let us know in the comments if you’ll miss the Facebook and Twitter apps on the console. Will Internet Explorer 9 suffice?

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/10/21/xbox-360-internet-explorer/

Living With Lumia: The Final Verdict on Windows Phone 8

Living With Lumia: The Final Verdict on Windows Phone 8

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Can an iPhone-loving Apple fangirl survive using Windows Phone 8 for 10 days? The answer is a resounding yes. Our Living With Lumia challenge has come to an end and I have some final thoughts about Nokia’s Lumia 920, Windows Phone 8 and the future of the platform.

Because of the Thanksgiving holiday, I actually ended up using the Lumia 920 for 12 days. In that time, I feel like I got a really good look at the platform along with its strengths and weaknesses.

The Good

Windows Phone 8 is really starting to come into its own. It’s taken some time, but at this stage, Windows Phone finally feels like a fully fleshed-out mobile OS.

Over the course of nearly two weeks, I was frequently asked by friends, co-workers (and even a few strangers) about the Lumia 920 and the OS. When showing it off, the standout feature that always elicited an “ooooh” was the People Hub.

Microsoft has absolutely nailed the way it handles contact management and the way social feeds are seamlessly integrated in a way that isn’t overwhelming. The People Hub and the living lock screen are two features that genuinely enhance the mobile phone experience.

As for the Lumia 920 itself, while it is a large phone, I appreciated the fact that it’s durable and well made. This is a phone that quite literally can be dropped on the ground without the fear of damage.

Although I initially had some issues with the battery, a combination of manual cycles and uninstalling/reinstalling certain apps seemed to fix the problem. Battery life is solid.

I’ve discussed the web and app situations in my prior posts — but suffice it to say, I’m very impressed with the default app situation and there are some truly excellent third-party apps in the mix.

As I said in my video entry, I’m really looking forward to continuing to follow the developer story surrounding Windows Phone 8. This platform has serious potential that I can see peeking through the edges and I look forward to watching that grow.

The Bad

No operating system is perfect, and Windows Phone has its share of niggles and challenges. While it would be easy to write off the issues with Windows Phone 8 being related to apps (or lack thereof), it’s not that simple.

As I said above, there are some truly excellent Windows Phone apps (and you can see a list of some of my favorites here), but I can’t help but be bothered by the lack of maturity of the ecosystem.

Windows Phone needs Instagram. It’s as simple as that. The need for Instagram isn’t just about making it available to the millions of users — like me — who love and depend on the network, it’s also symbolic.

Having (or not having) support for Instagram is a sign that a platform matters. It will be really hard to convince independent developers to invest in Windows Phone, for either apps or mobile web support, if the biggest and most important players aren’t there.

As for the Lumia 920 itself — as much as I like the camera, especially in low light — I don’t love the UI. It’s both too simplistic and too difficult at once. The half-shutter capture built into the camera button helps, but setting a focus point (which you can do on iOS and most Android phones with ease) takes far too much effort.

Don’t get me wrong — the low-light stills and video are fabulous — but it takes a bit too much effort for my taste, which is a shame as the camera really can turn out some of the best shots I’ve seen on a smartphone.

The ‘Needs Improvement’

Microsoft has done a good job of being consistent across devices and services with a few exceptions. Setting up Xbox Music on the Lumia is not as seamless as it should be. The same goes for the Movies store.

Speaking of Xbox — as good as Smart Glass is, I still don’t get the sense that there is real cohesion between Windows Phone and Xbox. This is a shame because, done properly and deeply, this could be a way to not only address the casual and portable gaming markets, but to convince diehard Xbox fans to pick up a Windows Phone.

I’d also like to see some refinements to the interface of Internet Explorer. Taking away the “forward” button in Windows Phone 7.5 still irks me and I’d love to see some of the gestures from Windows 8 make their way to Windows Phone 8.

Fundamentally, however, Windows Phone is solid. It’s now at a point for iterative improvements.

The larger issues with the platform are those that are harder to fix — getting developers to develop quality apps, making it easy for web sites to target the device and convincing users to give it a shot.

The Biggest Surprise

As I say in the video, my biggest surprise with Windows Phone 8 and the Lumia 920 was just how easily it integrates with platforms and services that are not tied to Microsoft.

I’m a Mac user and part of me was dreading using Windows Phone full-time, if only because of the issues related to desktop sync. While most of what I sync is now cloud-based, there are still times you need to connect to a computer, if only to transfer a full-sized image or HD video.

Microsoft’s Mac app isn’t perfect but I didn’t run into any issues with it on my MacBook Air, my iMac or the retina MacBook Pro I’m reviewing. It was easy to sync an iTunes playlist and videos and photos imported into iPhoto with ease.

Perhaps the bigger surprise was with how well Windows Phone 8 plays with other cloud-based systems. At Mashable, we use Google Apps and when I setup my Google account on Windows Phone, I was impressed with the following things:

  • IMAP push works correctly. Apple still can’t do this for Gmail, but Microsoft can. Kudos.

  • Calendar sync was spot-on.

  • Address book sync was perfect.

Another note about the address book. I found that I could search Mashable‘s corporate address book from within the mail app, the same way I could if it were LDAP on Exchange. The ActiveSync support for the device was truly top-notch, even for those of us who don’t use Microsoft or Exchange servers as our providers.

I was also very impressed with how well SkyDrive worked. It’s basically iCloud, but with the appearance of an actual file system. Trust me, sometimes one wants a file system (or at least a hierarchy of folders).

I’m Back on iPhone 5 … But

I’m back on the iPhone now. My job and the fact that I just paid AT&T and ETF to move to Verizon makes it unrealistic for me to move to Windows Phone full time (at least on the Lumia 920), even if it did have Instagram.

Still, as I say in the video above: I do want to continue carrying the Lumia 920. I want to follow the app story as it develops, but I also just like the platform. I can see using it as a way to instantly access emails and tasks in a way that isn’t as seamless on the iPhone.

Microsoft and Nokia’s marketing blitz is really paying off. Over Thanksgiving weekend, there were several instances where regular people off the street commented or approached me about the phone. The first time was at a diner in Union Square. The waitress recognized the phone and asked to take it to the back to show her co-worker who is obsessed with Windows 8.

Then, on Thanksgiving itself — as I was taking photos of my food (the Warren-Robertson household is not traditional, as we go out to eat on Thanksgiving) — other patrons in the restaurant recognized the Lumia and there were points and stares and murmurs about the device.

I never expected that. At all.

Have you switched from iOS (or Android) to Windows Phone? Let us know your experience in the comments.

Living With Lumia, Previous Installments:

BONUS: A Tour of the Nokia Lumia 920

These Glasses Let You Play in 3D Virtual Worlds

These Glasses Let You Play in 3D Virtual Worlds

Despite the endless gaming and interactive potential of augmented reality, the technology has been moving slow in terms of widespread awareness and adoption. But a new system called castAR aims to push augmented reality into the mainstream, starting with a Kickstarter campaign that launched Monday.

Founded by veteran developers and former Valve employees Jeri Ellsworth and Rick Johnson, Washington-based company Technical Illusions is offering a product that delivers both augmented-reality and virtual-reality experiences.

First introduced in May as a prototype, the castAR system is centered around a pair of glasses that house two micro-projectors over each lens. Each projector receives its video stream via an HDMI connection, and then beams a portion of a 3D image to a flat surface made out of retro-reflective sheeting material.

Situated between two the two lenses is a small camera that scans the surface for infrared markers. This dynamic allows the castAR to accurately track your head movements in relation to the holographic representations on the surface.

The product also comes with a clip-on attachment that allows the wearer to experience private augmented reality, layering virtual objects onto the real world, or virtual reality, during which all the imagery you see is computer-generated. Also included is a device called a Magic Wand that serves as a 3D input device and joystick.

Some of the potential applications for the castAR system include board games, flight simulators and first-person shooters; but the developers believe that it could also be used for interactive presentations in business.

While many companies have promised to deliver impressive augmented-reality experiences, video of the commercial version of the castAR (above) is impressive. “It’s gonna deliver on the dream of the holodeck,” Bre Pettis, CEO of Makerbot, said in the video.

For $355, early adopters can get their hands on the entire package of components, which includes the castAR glasses, the retro-reflective surface, the Magic Wand and the AR and VR clip-on. There are also several other packages offered at lower prices for those only looking to try the basics of the system.

Launched with a goal of $400,000, the team’s Kickstarter campaign has already earned over $210,000 as of this writing. Those who order the device now can expect to get it next September, according to Technical Illusions.

Image: Technical Illusions

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/10/14/augmented-reality-glasses/

Amazon Game Network Launch Hints at Kindle Smartphone

Amazon Game Network Launch Hints at Kindle Smartphone

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Amazon is taking on Apple’s GameCenter with the launch of its own gaming network for Kindle Fire gamers: GameCircle.

GameCircle brings achievements, leaderboards and — most interestingly — makes sync APIs accessible for Kindle Fire games. Sync will save your place to the cloud, allowing you to pick up playing on one device right where you left off on another.

Amazon describes the feature thus: “Players will not have to worry about losing progress, scores or achievements between Kindle Fire devices, as all data is securely stored in the cloud.”

Curious wording, and a curious feature — given that the Kindle Fire tablet is currently the only device with that branding.

Probably the only reason for having such a service — unless you happen to have bought multiple Kindle Fire tablets — is if those hints of an Amazon smartphone are for real.

Sure, you could also use the feature to transfer game progress on your current Kindle Fire to the next generation if and when that becomes available, or to a new Kindle Fire if your current device is lost, stolen, or broken. The functionality; however, would lose its luster long-term if you didn’t have a few Fire devices to use it with.

As far as the other GameCircle features go, the Achievements section keeps track of all of the trophies, awards, treasures, and badges that you’ve earned in a game without having to leave the game much like Apple’s GameCenter.

Players can get messages in-game, letting them know when they’re reached a new milestone, and can pause gameplay to check out a summary of all of the achievements they’ve unlocked so far as well as what achievements are left to be unlocked.

Leaderboards let players see how they stack up against others playing the game.

If you’re a developer, you can sign up for access to GameCircle APIs here. Gamers can check out a list of Kindle Fire games that are already using GameCircle services here.

What do you think about Amazon’s GameCenter? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/07/13/amazon-game-center-kindle-smartphone/

Netflix Getting Support for Amazon Fire TV's Voice Search

Netflix Getting Support for Amazon Fire TV’s Voice Search

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Want to search the Fire TV? Just talk to it.
Image: Mashable / Christina Ascani

Amazon’s Fire TV can plan on another voice-search partner later this year: Netflix.

Buried in Netflix’s Q2-earnings letter to shareholders was the following sentence (emphasis ours):

Chromecast, Roku Streaming Stick, and Amazon Fire TV (on which we expect to support voice search later this year) push the quality of experience and price points for adapter products.

Last week, Amazon announced that Hulu Plus, Crackle and and Showtime Anytime would be getting support for the Fire TV’s unified voice search later this summer.

Buy-in from Netflix, the largest subscription streaming service by a large margin, is encouraging for the Fire TV and its ecosystem of users.

In my original Fire TV review, my only complaint about the unified voice search feature was its limitation to Amazon content. It’s great to see that Amazon is working quickly with content partners to bring the feature more visibility.

Tiny Wings 2.0 Trailer Is Awesomely Retro

Tiny Wings 2.0 Trailer Is Awesomely Retro

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Tiny Wings is a fun iOS game that eschews the anger of another avian franchise for the underdog appeal of a bird that can’t fly. We especially like that it’s easy to play with just one hand (great for subway commutes).

If that wasn’t enough to get us looking forward to the next version of the game, this excellent trailer has done the trick. From the punch-card game track to the fairly game-accurate movements to the fun ending, it’s got us putting alerts in our calendar for July 12 — the date of the release.

What do you think of the Tiny Wings 2.0 trailer? Share your thoughts in the comments.

BONUS: 10 Games for iPhone You Can Play With One Hand

Free YouTube App Released for Nintendo Wii

Free YouTube App Released for Nintendo Wii

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YouTube App for Nintendo Wii

Nintendo Wii owners now have a new way to access YouTube on their gaming consoles. On its YouTube blog, the company announced Thursday that it’s releasing a YouTube app for Nintendo Wii. Designed specifically for that platform, it lets Wii users watch YouTube on the big screen.

Available first in the United States and to more countries “in the coming months,” the free app lets users sign into YouTube and conveniently watch their subscribed channels, as well a variety of categories of videos, trending videos and everything else on YouTube. It offers easier search as well, displaying instant results as you type:

YouTube App for Nintendo Wii

Using this new app is an improvement over the original method of accessing YouTube via the Nintendo Wii, which required a $5 purchase of an Internet channel on the Wii Shop Channel. Only after buying and downloading that Wii-friendly version of the Opera browser could YouTube could be accessed, as well as the rest of the Internet. In recent years, that software to access YouTube the Internet has been free.

YouTube App for Nintendo Wii

Now that YouTube has created this app for the Nintendo Wii, the streaming video service is ubiquitous among the major gaming consoles, joining previously released YouTube apps for PlayStation 3 and Xbox. In addition, YouTube announced that with this additional app released Thursday, YouTube is now available on a total of 400 million devices.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/11/15/youtube-app-wii/

Facebook Lets You Gamble with Real Money — in the UK

Facebook Lets You Gamble with Real Money — in the UK

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A new Facebook game lets you gamble with actual cash rather than Facebook credits — so long as you’re in the right location.

The first of its kind, Bingo & Slots Friendzy, is currently available for Facebook users 18 and over in UK only.

In order to gamble on the social network, you’ll need to sign up through the game’s parent company Gamesys and enter an email address as well as a physical address in the United Kingdom.

“Our Bingo Friendzy App comprises of a series of 90 Ball Bingo games which will offer the Facebook community the opportunity to play with and win real money,” reads the description on the app’s Facebook page.

”Players will enjoy a safe and trusted gaming experience with unique features like: Community Progressive Jackpots, when they pop everyone’s a winner, ‘Friendzy Bonus’ games which gives players chances to win free bingo tickets, ‘Friendzy Time’ offers extra ball calls meaning more winners after every Bingo game and Invite a ‘Friend Rewards’ will result in enhanced payouts when invited friends play in the same game.”

As with other Facebook games, game activity will post to your timeline. Unlike other games, however, that activity will only be able to be seen by those people who can actually use the app — Facebook users who reside in the UK and are over 18.

Zynga CEO Mark Pincus has indicated in the past that he would like to see Zynga make a real-money gambling game in the future.

While gambling laws are certainly different in the United States, the inclusion of Bingo & Slots Friendzy on the social network could be the first step in making that dream ultimately a reality.

What do you think about real-money gaming on Facebook? Would you do it? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/08/07/facebook-gambling-bingo/

Zynga Sues Former CityVille Head, Says He Stole Game Ideas

Zynga Sues Former CityVille Head, Says He Stole Game Ideas

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In the midst of a mass employee exodus, Zynga is suing the former head of its CityVille game for stealing its ideas.

The embattled online company filed a complaint in a San Francisco Court last Friday, accusing Alan Patmore of “misappropriation of trade secrets” and “breach of written contract.” Patmore, who was CityVille‘s general manager, joined Zynga last year. He recently left to be vice-president of product for competitor Kixeye, All Things D reports. As the number-one game on Facebook based on monthly average users, CityVille is among Zynga’s most popular games, according to its website.

“Zynga respects the rights of its employees to resign and seek employment with other companies. But what Zynga cannot tolerate is the wholesale theft of some of its most sensitive and commercially valuable data,” the company’s attorneys write. “Zynga has no choice but to bring this lawsuit to recover its stolen data and to ensure no use is made of it.”

The 14-page court document then goes on to accuse Patmore of taking 760 files from Zynga — including unreleased game design documents and confidential revenue information — and later attempting to “cover his tracks.”

Zynga also takes a jab at Kixeye, describing it as “a social gaming company that ranks 34th in the industry” and “who has publicly expressed animus towards industry-leader Zynga.”

The data that Zynga claims Patmore stole could give rivals such as Kixeye a competitive edge, the document says.

“[It] could be used to improve a competitor’s internal understanding and know-how of core game mechanics and monetization techniques, its execution, and ultimately its market standing to compete more effectively with Zynga.”

The San Francisco-based firm is no stranger to legal battles. In August, Electronic Arts sued Zynga over striking similarities between The Ville and EA’s The Sims Social.

Zynga and Kixeye did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

UPDATE: Kixeye tells Mashable that it “has nothing to do with the suit.”

“Unfortunately, this appears to be Zynga’s new employee retention strategy: Suing former employees to scare current employees into staying,” spokesman Bryan Lam says in an email. “They’ve clearly exhausted other options in their employee retention playbook.”

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/10/16/zynga-sue-cityville/